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‘American Graffiti: 50th Anniversary Edition’ 4K UHD (Blu-ray)

Universal

American Graffiti is one of my favorite films of all time made by one of my most favorite filmmakers of all time. It is such a great slice of American life in the early 1960’s.

This is one of my feel-good comfort films. I love how This film is both timeless and timely regardless of its setting in history.

Lucas, for me, truly captures the feel of that last night before going off to college. Trying to capture time in a bottle, as it were. In the end, an innocence that was felt in the country before it was hurled into the Vietnam War.

The film opens with the sound of a car radio dial being tuned in and settled on Wolfman Jack’s pirate radio show. The radio station motif continues throughout the film and ties the various storylines together. It brilliantly culminates in a scene where Jack himself makes a cameo later in the film.

The radio just adds to the “hanging out one-night” feel of this film and sets the tone for the whole movie. It is also brilliantly used throughout the film to punctuate movements and as a sort of punchline in certain scenes. Like his contemporary, Martin Scorsese, whose film Mean Streets was made the same year, Lucas has a brilliant sense of the use of music to highlight scenes and sequences.

Shot on a budget of $750.000 over the course of 28 days and earning over $115 million it was the beginning of Lucas’ place as a blockbuster director. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, and Harrison Ford, This film was a cultural phenomenon. Not only did it catapult many actors’ careers into the view of millions it also helped put Happy Days (originally a segment of the anthology series “Love, American Style” 1972), and all its subsequent spin-offs on the map.

I saw American Graffiti about 10 years after I saw Lucas’ follow-up low-budget film called, Star Wars. A film that changed my life, and the lives of millions. I was about the same age as McKenzie Phillips’ character, Carol, in this film when I first watched it. Like the character, Carol, I was a young teen thrust into the world of “cruising The Strip”; fast cars, fast talkers, and some of the coolest cats you ever laid your eyeballs on. As I watched her with hot shot motor head, John Milner, played by Paul Le Mat, all I could think about was how cool it would be to one day be able to ride up and down “the strip” with my friends. It never happened as we didn’t really have a “strip” in my hometown.

I also love how documentary-style this film feels. Lucas excels in this style of filmmaking. Catching those moments that shouldn’t be seen. This is the same filmmaker who wanted to shoot Apocalypse Now guerilla filmmaking style IN Vietnam as the war raged around him. The vibe of this film, the almost spontaneous and sometimes improvisational feel of this film is what Lucas does best. Shot over a month, mostly at night night, up and down the streets of San Rafael and Petaluma filling in for Lucas’ hometown of Modesto. The spontaneity and naturalistic feel of this film is perfectly captured. The juxtaposition of the kinetic scene of Le Mat and Phillips as they let out the air of the tires and smear shaving cream all over the car that threw a water balloon at them while at a red light and the awkwardly intimate make-out scene with Charles Martin Smith and Candy Clark in the back of Steve’s caress people walk by is a perfect example of this. This is what Lucas does with aplomb. He was known for and continued to use flubbed lines, unintentional moments, and not-quite-perfect takes to add to the staged realism. Capturing that one moment in time you weren’t supposed to see.

Lucas’ love of cars and this culture is on full display here. All the characters and time period are also handled with a tenderness and thoughtfulness that makes me wish Lucas was able to continue to make other types of films after Star Wars that weren’t Star Wars. Sure he wrote and produced several films over the years after this before directing The Phantom Menace in 1999 but I feel the Star Wars phenomenon took over his life and changed his love and relationship to film.

Extras include commentary, making of, screen tests, and trailer.

I don’t know how this film is perceived by today’s audiences but I feel that this film should be seen by everyone. I think it is really important and I really love it.

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